Is the traditional British pub going the way of the British Empire?
But their numbers are in steady decline.
The future of traditional pubs is certainly on the minds of Britons, whose relationship with them stretches back centuries.
A New York Times article this week looked at the declining pub numbers and tackled many of the issues that Britain's pubs face. Those include declining beer consumption nationwide, real estate prices, and the country's unique pub ownership system—in which pubs often are "tied" to a brewer through ownership or contract. (A little more than one-third of pubs operate independently.)
Those issues, though quite real, fall largely outside of the relationship between pubs and government. But I find other issues facing Britain's pubs to be particularly interesting because they highlight this eternal question: How will government attempt to solve the problems it creates?
The answer, typically—and especially, when it comes to food laws and polices—is more government.
One issue facing Britain's pubs is taxation.
While the Times noted the tax issue briefly—stating that the UK government last year "reduced the tax paid on every pint of beer, by a penny"—the problem runs much deeper. That minor blip halted decades of increased taxes. Today, more than one-third of the average pub price for every pint is swallowed by taxes, according to data provided by the Campaign for Real Ale, a UK drinkers' rights group.
Another issue is licensing related to pub closing times.
For generations, early pub closings were "as much as part of English lore as Big Ben and double-decker buses," reported the Washington Post in 2005. A law that took effect that year allowed some pubs to pay more in fees to stay open later. But few pubs have done so. And many pubs' licenses still don't permit them to be open at times when most people might want to grab a pint.
Earlier this month, for example, the UK government declared that pubs "will not be allowed to open late during England's opening World Cup [football soccer] match this summer." That game, against Italy, begins at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night, when at least some pubs would require a one-time exemption, costing about $35 per pub, to stay open later.
Prime Minister David Cameron quickly overruled his Home Office. But the point—that many of England's pubs are forced by regulators to close earlier than customers might want—remains.
Despite that fact, a law enforcement lobbying group sounded the alarm last year over what it characterized as a rise in drunken "mayhem," the result of some pub hours having been extended.
But a subsequent University of Cambridge study poured cold water on the claims.